Which love, country, hip-hop, and rock songs rule over time?

We’re constantly talking music at our house, and all of us eagerly look for new bands whose songs might have shelf life in our brains. That’s how I discovered The Dead South, a group I thought of when I saw a reader list “House of the Rising Sun” as a submission to the set list I’m building here. I did some searches, and what I came up with was a mixed bag of top songs from different critics. Some of the songs on these lists surprised me. Others, like “Hey, Jude,” just never made their way into my heart. 

One real surprise was the inclusion of Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” (2008) on Billboard’s Top 50 Love Songs of all Time list. I can’t even get through more than a minute of that song before wanting it to stop. What redeemed that list for me were songs like “Baby Love” (The Supremes, 1964), “I Knew I Loved You” (Savage Garden, 2000), and “To Sir With Love” (Lulu, 1967). There are a number of my favorites on Billboard’s Love Songs list, and also a number of songs that prove people will buy anything if the branding is strong enough.

What are the greatest country songs of all time? I found a list at Rolling Stone. Among the top 100 are Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs” (1986), “Redneck Woman” (Gretchen Wilson, 2004), and “Friends in Low Places” (Garth Brooks, 1990). Brooks’ song is one my daughters cover, and although it’s not one of my personal favorites, it is definitely a crowd favorite. Lesson: people like songs they can sing along to.

Website Complex.com has a list of the 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Beats of All Time. Included are songs like “The Light” (Common, 2000), “Through the Wire” (Kanye West, 2003), and “C.R.E.A.M.” (Wu-Tang Clan, 1993). This list includes commentary on each title.

Rock n Roll America came up with a list of the Top 1,000 Rock Songs. Much to my dismay—at number 2 is “Hey, Jude.” Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is one of my favorites. Also included is “Free Bird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Somehow “Lola” by The Kinks is on the list.

Each site used different criteria to include a song on the list. While Billboard relied on weeks spent on charts, other sites seemed to pick them subjectively. It’s a matter of personal taste, and that often figures into our discussions at home.

I remember playing “Fairy Tale of New York” (The Pogues, with Kirsty MacColl) for my family, and after I’d raved about the brilliance of the lyrics, the narrative, and the arrangement, my husband just looked at me and said, “The guy can’t sing.”

In a nutshell, that illustrates the differences in musical tastes among us all.

Because that guy who “can’t sing” delivered a song that drills into the core of the human condition, and when his vocals meld with MacColl’s in harmony, it is pure magic. Besides, early critics told Bob Dylan he couldn’t sing. That was a crit that didn’t age well at all.

(Kay B. Day/May 9, 2018)

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